by Malaika Kambon
From Hunters Point to Haiti, Black communities are fighting with an indomitable spirit against all forms of political repression – from illegal searches and seizures to illegal housing foreclosures, land thefts, police brutality, paramilitary occupations and the continuation of forced enslavement in the burgeoning – and global – prison and military industrial complex of the U.S.
Nowhere is this fight more in evidence than in the Bayview Hunters Point community in California and in all parts north, south, east and west in Haiti. The battle rages and is being waged against the same enemy.
And in true revolutionary fashion, in both locales, Africans are fighting back against nearly insurmountable odds – with attitude, courage, dignity and absolute fearlessness.
Consider the case of DeBray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter. He was busted on Oct. 18, 2011, by two of SFPD’s finest, John Norment and Joshua Fry, for (gasp!) participating in a community organized rally while playing a boom box in a (dare I say) “unauthorized” location – said location being a gy-normous plug attached to a tree in Mendell Plaza in the heart of the vibrant, predominantly Afrikan Bayview Hunters Point community.
Then, when said SFPD officers, following their practice of repeatedly harassing Fly, began to videotape him being arrested for playing a boom box, Fly decided that it was fitting that he record them, the SFPD, while they wasted taxpayer’s hard earned coin by harassing Black people playing music on community land.
Of course, then the oppressor became really incensed. After all, Fly is a young Afrikan Man, insisting upon his First Amendment right to assemble peaceably in a public place. Can’t have that. Perish the thought that Afrikans should get any uppity ideas about standing up and speaking truth to power.
So, comes now the brutal assault of DeBray Carpenter, in which he is arrested by the SFPD’s Norment, Fry and four or five others of their ilk, who are in fact armed and who are trespassing upon the land that Fly’s parents practically built. He is also injured, hospitalized, jailed and charged with feloniously resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and videotaping police officers and thus interfering with them in the performance of their sworn duties – of harassing the community.
After all, they hang out in Mendell Plaza on their bicycles all day, four to six deep, every day. Explained Officer Fry at Fly’s trial, “It’s our job to be there so people feel safe.”
Now, the tree and the plaza in which it sits is so centrally located that it is half a block from the internationally renowned San Francisco Bay View newspaper building, half a block from the century old Bayview Opera House and the very public Joseph Lee gymnasium and half a block from where 19-year-old Kenneth Wade Harding Jr. was brutally murdered on July 16, 2011, for being too poor to pay the $2 light rail fare on the new T-train line that banned Black people from building it – but that passes right through the heart of the Bayview Black community, taking millions of dollars of our hard earned money while claiming to meet our transportation needs.
Fly knows this. Being an astute young man and the product of three generations of proud and fearless community organizers – from his parents Claude Carpenter and Barbara Banks, leading contractors training and hiring community workers for decades, to his grandparents and their predecessors – he knows the injustices that exist.
So, while standing on community land, doing what he was born to do, he’s busted for playing a boom box? And charged with feloniously objecting to being brutalized, beaten and busted for videotaping armed attackers after they videotaped him for peaceably assembling in public?
And then, in typical kangaroo court fashion, after a trial by a jury not of his peers, Fly is convicted of three misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, assault upon a police officer, and that ever present interfering with said officers’ dubious duties by videotaping them in their illicit performance.
Fly’s attorney, Severa Keith, fought valiantly for acquittal on all charges. In a message to Bay View readers after the trial, she wrote:
“While the outcome could have been much worse, we wanted better. DeBray was convicted by a jury that did not have the opportunity to hear the entire story. The judge refused to allow any evidence related to DeBray’s prior interactions with these officers, which included incidents of racist acts, threatening acts, taunting and evidence that their superiors had told them to video record Mr. Carpenter.
“Evidence of DeBray’s history of community activism was also excluded. All this was excluded on the basis that it would tend to ‘confuse the issues’ in the trial. Evidence was limited to the events of Oct. 18, 2011.
“The exclusion of this important and relevant history between DeBray and the officers who arrested him was shocking to me and made an already uphill battle a mountain. It is clear from watching the video of DeBray’s arrest that the incident did not start on that day; there was a history there, and the jury did not hear it.
“Rather than confuse the issues, the history of Officer Fry’s and Norment’s outrageous conduct actually illuminates and clarifies what happened on Oct. 18. Their bias, motives and personal animosity towards DeBray were not allowed in the trial.
“The effect of the exclusion of this evidence, which was going to be presented by four willing and brave witnesses, who were willing to speak up about the officers’ conduct, even though they feared retribution, became clear during the trial. During DeBray’s testimony, several jurors asked the question of whether he had had past contacts with these officers. Their questions went unanswered.”
Orwellian? Yep. Illegal? Yep. Happen before? Of course! Jack boots in your cheerios? You bet.
And shades of Ancestor-Warrior Oscar Grant III, 22, who videotaped his killers as they killed him on Jan. 1, 2009, on the Fruitvale BART platform in Afrikan East Oakland, while he and his friends were peacefully assembled on a BART station platform, laughing, talking and on their way home.
So here’s the re-mix, the part where the people step up and fight back more strongly.
Fly Benzo is alive, and we, the true people, would like him to stay that way. We object to one of our favorite sons being snatched, stolen and harassed.
Supported 100 percent by community, friends and family Fly, being an intelligent young man, has increased his writing and speaking out, for he realizes that not only have his First Amendment rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution been violated, but he is now subject to enslavement via that same constitution’s illegal 13th Amendment as well.
“There have been many cases in which video evidence has contradicted an officer’s testimony and either an officer was convicted of wrongdoing or a suspect’s charges have been overturned or dismissed. With this great lack of integrity and accountability of the very ones who are paid to uphold the law, it is imperative, in the interest of justice, that civilians’ right to record police be preserved rather than criminalized,” wrote Fly in “The First Amendment Right to Record the Police.”
Thus, in a tremendous outpouring of worldwide love and community support, it seems as though half of Hunters Point, if not all of it at some point passed by Mendell Plaza, at Third and Palou on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, when 30-50 people held a press conference to emphasize that the freedom of one of its own, DeBray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter, was of the utmost importance.
And on April 20, even though Fly was not sentenced as scheduled, 80-100 people packed the courtroom and the adjoining hallways at the Hall of (in)Justice as influential members of the community spoke in court on Fly’s behalf. This is indicative of the fact that his status as a peacemaker, negotiator and mentor in the lives of many Bay Area youth and as a community, entrepreneurial and student leader and as a staunch advocate for the civil rights of dispossessed Afrikan and other communities of color is well known and documented.
So when DeBray Carpenter was sentenced on April 27, half the room was again filled with his supporters, with more on the way, and hundreds more awaited news of the outcome via blog post, email and social networking.
And by the conditions of probation imposed upon him, the courts again showed their willingness to continue violating his First Amendment rights and the rights of the entire Bayview Hunters Point community.
The court issued numerous fines and conditions that are in direct violation of his right to community activism via peaceable assembly, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. In fact, his sentence includes a “stay away” order from Mendell Plaza, the town square at the heart of Bayview Hunters Point that was a top priority community demand for decades and, since it was finally built, a place used more effectively for feeding, entertaining, educating and unifying the community by Fly Benzo than by anyone else.
Fly cannot go to court and protest the stay away order until June 8, over a month after sentencing. And in an attempt to humiliate him, the very officers who assaulted him demanded that he apologize to them for their obstruction of his lawful citizen’s right to videotape police officers performing their duties in a public space!
The following are the court ordered shackles imposed upon DeBray Carpenter as a consequence of his conviction on three misdemeanors, including “use of a cell phone to harass and intimidate officers in the performance of their duties”:
- Three years’ probation
- A jail suspended sentence of six months for each of the three misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, placing a (cell) phone in the face of police officers, thus preventing the performance of their duties, and assault while being arrested. Counts 1 and 3 are to be served concurrently and count 2 served consecutively, so he’s under the threat of one year’s jail time if probation is violated.
- A stay away order, prohibiting DeBray Carpenter from being on Third Street between Oakdale and Quesada, i.e. Mendell Plaza and the next block south, unless passing by in a vehicle.
- Random warrantless searches and seizures of his person, property and home, to which he must consent
- A ban on weapon possession, which is a superfluous condition, since Mr. Carpenter was unarmed at the time of his arrest
- One hundred hours of community service, to be performed on weekends
- The completion of anger management classes
- An order to obey all laws and to remain at arm’s length from all officers
- Maintenance of full time school attendance and/or employment
- Participation in San Francisco’s SWAP street and sidewalk sweeping program
- Payment of nearly $1,000 in court fines and fees, including the civil liability fines to be imposed if probation conditions are violated.
Anybody who thinks this isn’t a pre-planned noose around this man’s neck, raise your hand!
The videotaping of police officers performing their duties in a public space is a right that is “unambiguously” protected by the First Amendment, the federal 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Aug. 26, 2011. Therefore, in ruling on DeBray Carpenter’s case, did retired Judge Jerome T. Benson not only deny Fly Benzo the protection of the First Amendment on last Oct. 18 but abridged and criminalized Fly’s First Amendment rights for the next three years.
So are cell phones, cameras and camcorders now deemed lethal weapons? And is the use of them to record illicit police activity now deemed a criminal act?
Is this how the courts intend to overturn our rights as demonstrated to us by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale when the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, born of the Deacons for Defense in the South, began teaching the African community to watch and record the police terrorizing our communities?
And what if, while the stay away order is in effect, some sadistic “Officer Friendly” decides to force Mr. Carpenter to sweep the wrong sidewalk? And then busts him for doing so?
Can the Orwellian jackboots of 1984 come any closer to DeBray Carpenter and his family in 2012 without causing loss of life? I think not. Do you hear the jackboots coming? Do you hear the clinking of the chains? And did you notice that the noose is always made in America?
By virtue of standing up to authority, Fly Benzo has become a hero to many, and while many alleged activists and politicians are motivated only by greed and personal gain, Fly Benzo remains of and for the people.
Therefore, the shouts of “He’s Not Guilty! He’s Not Guilty!” “Free Fly Benzo,” show a fierce outpouring of community strength, love and commitment to fight for the freedom of one of its own as expressed by multitudes from the outset of his assault by SFPD. His wrongful conviction on Feb. 22 is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
But somehow this fact got lost in the shuffle. Judge Benson chose to focus upon criminalizing Mr. Carpenter – alleging him to be the violent one – while denying crucial evidence of prior violence by police against him, thereby decreeing that Fly, a young Black man, has no rights that the judicial system of the U.S. is bound to respect. Judge Benson should have remained in retirement.
The April 27 court sentencing was the culmination of months in which Fly and the Bayview Hunters Point community took the battle for his freedom from the streets into the courts, which are just another kind of battlefield, albeit one with a pre-stacked deck.
For the reality is that DeBray has been repeatedly harassed for over a year by the SFPD for his activism as a freedom fighter analyzing the meaning and application of First Amendment rights in the context of struggle, building connections between his school and the Hunters Point community via the Black Star Liner Coalition he founded, feeding and empowering the people of his community, and demanding accountability for the murder of Kenneth Wade Harding Jr., while helping to debunk the media misinformation that sought to criminalize Kenneth Harding and seeks to criminalize all young Afrikan men.
The 22-year-old veteran community organizer has been accomplishing all of this while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average at City College of San Francisco and mentoring youth at POOR News Network.
So now, DeBray Carpenter faces three years of probation, during which time the state of California may violate him and send him to jail on the flimsiest of excuses. That’s 1,095 days and nights, until the year of his 25th birthday, with a noose hanging over his head.
And a particularly disturbing corollary to these months of proceedings is that merely being charged with a felony, despite being acquitted of all felonies, means that Mr. Carpenter is bound by law to submit DNA test results to the court to become part of a permanent state, local and federal criminal database and record against him!
That, along with the “stay away” order, is like giving Fly a felony conviction, sub rosa with the implication of drug involvement. This is outrageous and constitutes racial profiling and tracking and provides yet another way for law enforcement to escalate its harassment of him.
He is now virtually a pre-convicted felon on probation in the eyes of the state, regardless of his battle to exercise his First Amendment right to record the police. This drives home further the point of extrajudicial punishment within a systemically racist society and the fact that the police can legally operate outside of the law with impunity.
But the world now knows that the struggle continues in the heart of Bayview Hunters Point. They know that Fly Benzo’s fight is also against involuntary servitude, i.e. the re-enslavement of Afrikan people that is supported by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
This amendment states: “Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The re-enslaving clause is highlighted.
Fly Benzo’s fight against trumped up charges is a fight for the abolition of the prison industrial complex and its practice of the forced servitude (read: enslavement) of Afrikan men and women on its plantations, as dictated by an unjust government in the 21st century.
We, as the new abolitionists, know this, for we know that the commonly held belief that Afrikan enslavement ended in 1863 is fallacious. Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow,” and the PBS documentary “Slavery by Any Other Name” bears this out.
We know that the enslavement of Afrikan men and women continues to this day, well into the 21st century, via forced imprisonment, and is legal, as is borne out by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. constitution, a law passed by the U.S. Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House of Representatives on Jan. 31, 1865, and officially adopted on Dec. 6, 1865 – a law which is still on the books without change on this day in April 2012, 147 years later, in what U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama proclaims to be a “post-racial “ America.
So that even with probation, Fly has jail time literally hanging over his head. This is the next stage of pervasive racism: being tethered by a court of “law” to an unjust system of government that is willing to convict him of trumped up charges in order to enslave him and sell his coerced physical labor to the highest bidder within the 21st century prison industrial complex.
This is a modern day form of delayed convict leasing, the system that was begun after the U.S. Civil War to provide prisoner labor to private parties, such as plantation owners and corporations like Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. Corruption, lack of accountability and racial violence resulted in “one of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history,” according to a source quoted by Wikipedia.
For dramatic insight into the 19th century convict leasing system see the entire PBS documentary “Slavery By Another Name, at http://video.pbs.org/video/2176766758/.
Fast forward to the 21st century.
Revolutionary journalist and prison abolitionist Kiilu Nyasha writes in “Slavery on the new plantation”: “Private companies operate 264 correctional facilities housing some 99,000 adult prisoners,” as opposed to the five private prisons and 2,000 prisoners of 1995, and California is touted as its “new frontier” by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
“Employers (read: slavers) don’t have to pay health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. They can hire, fire or reassign inmates as they so desire, and can pay the workers as little as 21 cents an hour. The inmates cannot respond with a strike, file a grievance, or threaten to leave and get a better job,” Nyasha writes.
Twenty-first century private companies including Microsoft and Wal-Mart now contract prison labor, replacing the 19th century convict leasing system – but not replacing the 19th century 13th Amendment, making the enslavement of African men and women legal.
And according to Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” more Black people are enslaved behind bars today than were enslaved on the plantations in 1850, before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
These are the punitive measures that Fly Benzo faces for “standing his ground” and exercising his First Amendment right to record the police. Trumped up charges, a trial by a jury not of his peers, witnessing vital evidence being disallowed by an ultra-conservative retired judge – just as in actual physical chattel enslavement, these punitive measures are meant to dissuade, intimidate and silence others from following in his footsteps.
But for Afrikans to resist the vast prison that is America is a revolutionary act. It is an act that carries the torch of liberation in the finest human tradition, accepting as it does the tremendous gift of freedom from chattel enslavement given to us by our Afrikan ancestors on the tiny island in the Caribbean that now encompasses Haiti.
In the battle for freedom fought between 1791 and 1804, Haiti defeated the greatest military might of that era: France twice in the form of Napoleon Bonaparte and his brother-in-law Gen. Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc; England, Spain and America via then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson’s gift of $40,000 in foreign aid to Napoleon. Napoleon’s dream of preserving the “Jewel of the Antilles” by keeping its people – Afrikan Haitians – enslaved failed.
But Haitians did not stop with freeing themselves. Haitians fought for Afrikan freedom in the U.S., fought with Simon Bolivar to free South America, sent soldiers to fight with Mexican revolutionaries, fought side by side with Ernesto “Che” Guevara to free Cuba from the brutal Bautista regime, and provided a safe haven for all who fled enslavement.
Today Haiti still battles the same Euro-American corruption and greed that saw France extort $22 billion from Haitian coffers for her audacity in freeing herself from chattel enslavement.
Just as DeBray Carpenter is subjected to the “business as usual” imposition of having to pay nearly $1,000 in fines and $95,000 bail (read: ransom) into San Francisco’s prison coffers for the dubious distinction of being placed on probation for standing up for his First Amendment rights.
It is the same battle, many fronts, from Hunters Point to Haiti.
Taken as a whole, the continued global targeting of Afrikan people in general and youth in particular, is more than a violation of their civil rights. It is a violation of the human rights of Afrikans in the world and a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights. Unlike Haiti, however, the U.S. Constitution legalizes enslavement, and criminalizes Afrikans who protest, while refusing to legitimize their right to do so.
Oh irony: that this targeting is not illegal according to the U.S. constitution, by virtue of its 13th amendment!
Yet in the face of escalating violence, Fly Benzo and others like him are courageously standing up and challenging the injustices written into the U.S. Constitution, as well as the ways in which we are attacked that are antithetical to rights supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
We, the organizers and defenders of our communities from Hunters Point to Haiti, fight with dignity the viciousness of paramilitary invasion into our communities, fight the deliberate misinformation of mainstream media by speaking truth to power, and fight with our minds and with cameras, not guns. For this we risk being murdered and/or being forced into enslavement.
But unity is being forged and battle is being waged. Despite the targeted killings of our people, attacks upon our media and occupations of our communities, Afrikan people continue to resist and stand up against 21st century attempts at our global re-enslavement.
There is a growing community awareness that is positive and supportive of its freedom fighters, an awareness that knows that DeBray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter is not guilty! We salute our young community leaders such as he. We need them and must nurture and protect them from terrorists in blue.
Mr. Carpenter will be appealing his case on the battlefield of the courts. He and his family will continue to organize in the community and on college campuses.
As he reminded us through his rap, “My folks in Afrika need food; instead they’re sending them bombs.” He makes the vital connections and the struggle continues.
All power to the people!
Malaika H. Kambon is a freelance photojournalist and the 2011 winner of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association Luci S. Williams Houston Scholarship in Photojournalism. She also won the AAU state and national championship in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2010. She can be reached at email@example.com.
You can help by donating at a WePay page created to raise funds for DeBray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter, who was arrested, hospitalized and persecuted for copwatching, in order to help pay bail and court fees as well as for his appeal. Go to https://www.wepay.com/donations/freeflybenzo–debray-fly-benzo-carpenter-defense-fund.
On Friday, April 20, Fly Benzo spoke at a Redstone Building racism conference about racism, discrimination, the police setting him up on a bogus charge and Trayvon Martin. My good camera’s battery tanked and I couldn’t leave Fly’s wonderful address and his rap music unrecorded. – Carol Harvey, videographer
A press conference and rally to Free Fly Benzo! was held in Mendell Plaza April 18, two days before his pre-sentencing hearing. Listen to the outpouring of love for a young freedom fighter in this video by Occupy CCSF.
On Oct. 18, 2011, police who have been stalking Fly Benzo ever since he began protesting the SFPD murder of Kenneth Harding on July 16, 2011, viciously beat him when he video-recorded them in response to their video-recording of him. On Feb. 22, 2012, Fly was convicted of three misdemeanors for assaulting the police. Both the police murder of Kenneth Harding and the police beating of Fly Benzo occurred in Mendell Plaza, the heart of Bayview Hunters Point at Third Street and Palou. Though Fly and his supporters are relieved that Judge Jerome Benson did not deprive him of all his liberties by handing him the maximum sentence of three years in jail, his sentence does deprive him of the liberty of Mendell Plaza, the town square of Bayview Hunters Point, where Fly has long been the most effective organizer. The plaza is now a no Fly zone and a no free speech zone.